Something’s different about COP21. We can all feel it in the air — the sheer number of people, the various art installations dotting the city, the businesses and local governments that are here to show their support, and the romantic beauty of Paris also doesn’t hurt.

What's the difference? Life or death for millions of people, if you ask island nations and poor countries.

Imagine an earthquake has destroyed your house, leveled the homes of all your neighbors. The nearest clinic, which is not very near at all, has suffered structural damage, and landslides make the roads nearly impassible. Even more importantly, the clinic is without electricity and has no mechanism of back-up power.

Last week, over 150 world leaders gathered together in Paris for the launch of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), indicating that climate change is finally becoming a forefront issue in global policy. And the vast majority of these world leaders were men.

“Imagine Earth without an ocean. We’d look a lot like Mars,” says Sylvia Earle, oceanographer and explorer. Discourse surrounding the perils of climate change is largely confined to the reduction of carbon emission without proper links to the ocean, even at COP21 where hundreds of nations made calls to action on mitigating the effects of fossil fuel consumption.

In the past few days here in Paris, there’s been excitement about the possibility of including mention of a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature limit in the COP21 agreements, a shift from the historical limit of 2 degrees endorsed by most developed nations.

The Faces of Solar at COP21 (see part I)

Laura Stachel: Eliminating Childbirth Mortalities in Underserved Countries

In 2008, Dr. Laura Stachel traveled to northern Nigeria on a graduate research project. She spent two weeks observing care in a hospital as a part of a research program through University of California, Berkeley. As an obstetrician, her original purpose was to examine how to lower the staggeringly high rates of maternal death.

That unifying moment that we’ve waited for has arrived: the moment that division and fear do not guide our behavior but, rather, hope and science coalesce to ignite a societal shift toward sustainability and justice. The 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), the United Nations Climate Negotiations, can be the foundation for such a collective movement for real change. Historically, human civilization has been divided.

In 1977, the world was just beginning to learn about solar power. With only 500 kW worth of panels installed worldwide, one watt of solar-produced energy sold for a staggering $76 USD. Also that year, the now-ubiquitous solar-powered calculators first came to market.

“Take action.” These are the two words young people are most frequently met with when we ask what we can do about climate change. These are also two of the most frustrating words in the English language. What does “taking action” really mean? Considering the urgency and scale of catastrophic climate change, what can young people do to make a significant difference, and push for the sort of bold solutions we need to protect the one planet we have?

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